Kevin’s comments on my last article, Choosing Your Career: “Refuse to Choose!” – A Book Review, recently got me to thinking: the job market can be an awfully rough place for older workers. I’ve heard stories of people as young as their 40s (hardly any older than me!) being told by job interviewers that they are “too old” for the positions they are interviewing for. Even though age discrimination in the workplace is legally forbidden, employers utilize some creative age discrimination work-arounds to get around these barriers.
Age Discrimination Work-arounds
Multiple job hunters have claimed that interviewers, rather than ask for the age of the applicant, which they are prohibited by law from doing, will ask instead for the year the applicant graduated from high school, and thereby get a pretty good estimate of the applicant’s actual age.
Many employers, rather than utilize the accumulated wisdom and experience of older workers, would rather take on younger ones that cost less.I’ve also heard that employers prefer younger workers over older ones, simply because younger workers are more likely to “go along” with whatever the company dictates and less likely to “talk back” to their bosses. Of course, this isn’t to imply that all younger workers are super-agreeable with their bosses and all older workers are adversarial – it’s simply the reality that these prejudices continue to exist to this day.
(Editor’s Note: A more tangible reason why older workers are excluded from hiring has to do with health insurance costs. Since older workers typically file more medical claims, employers prefer to keep their staff on the younger side as a way to keep health insurance premiums lower. – Kevin)
The Recession Might Not be Over for Workers over 55
A recent article by Mark Miller at Fortune magazine, Older American Workers Are Still Struggling to Find Jobs, discusses the plight that many older workers are facing in the current job market. As Kevin and others have pointed out, economic statistics, especially on unemployment, are “slippery” at best, devious at worst.
Miller points out that while the “official” unemployment rate for workers over the age of 55 was a mere 3.5 % –when other considerations are factored in, such as part-time workers who want to work full-time, those who are unemployed and discouraged and have given up looking, etc., — the real unemployment/underemployment rate for these folks is much closer to 12 %.
Why Your Career Isn’t Over Because You’re “Over the Hill”
This absolutely doesn’t mean that older workers can’t continue to fulfill a valuable niche or find their “true calling.” Many older workers may fear that they may be “over the hill” and have little left to contribute. Consider, however, the number of individuals who found success later in life, which includes such noteworthy personalities as:
Martha Stewart – published her first books on home décor and entertainment at age 40. Before that, she spent years working in the catering business.
Rodney Dangerfield – got his first “big break” in comedy appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show at age 46. Before that, he was working as a salesman and struggling to find gigs while accumulating thousands of dollars in debt.
Betty White – the award-winning comedy actress first became a cultural icon on The Mary Tyler Moore Show at age 51.
Duncan Hines – wrote his first food and hotel guides at age 55. Before that he was a traveling salesman for a Chicago printer.
Miguel de Cervantes – published his most famous novel, Don Quijote, at age 58. Before that, he served in the Spanish navy and struggled to find work that would support himself.
Col. Harland Sanders – franchised his Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant chain at age 62. Before opening his restaurant he had struggled or failed in other ventures, including being laid off from the Michelin Tire Company.
Laura Ingalls Wilder – published the first of her “Little House” books at age 65. Before that she had worked as a schoolteacher but found it wasn’t to her liking.
Peter Roget – his book Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases was first published when he was 73. Before that he worked as a physician. Much of his work on the thesaurus was done while he was battling serious depression.
Anna Mary Robertson “Grandma” Moses – began her painting career at age 78. Before that she made embroidery and sold potato chips.
Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned from these well-known individuals. If you are finding that employers are not giving you a “fair shake” because of your age, maybe the time has come to “blaze your own trail” and find your own path to doing work that will reward you and contribute to the world.
Take heart, older workers! You’re not done yet – you might just need to start getting ready for your next act!